Story Eric Brown
The Fence Post

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December 26, 2013
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4-H group on a $2 million mission

A rare, multi-million dollar endowment effort aimed at helping Weld County, Colo., youth will enter 2014 with the same goal it had in 2013 — even if the endeavor’s name is a little different.

Looking to expand what’s already one of the largest and most successful programs in the state, Weld County 4-H officials at the start of 2013 set a goal to establish a $2 million endowment fund to hire additional 4-H staff. Keith Maxey, director of the Colorado State University Extension office in Weld County that oversees local 4-H operations, said they want to continue working with the traditional rural youth, but also broaden their programs to appeal to the growing urban population in the area.

During 2013, the endowment effort raised $350,000, Maxey reported in recent days, with those dollars coming from private donors, businesses and other sources, and ranging in size from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand.

“We really made the kind of progress in our first year that we wanted to see,” Maxey said.

And, with the endowment-effort learning curve behind them, Maxey and other 4-H leaders are confident they can come close to reaching their ultimate goal by the end of 2014 — or even hit it.

The endowment strategy is rarely used in CSU Extension, Maxey said.

Currently, there is only one endowed extension position in the state.

Making it more unique now is the person the local endowment is honoring.

At recent meetings, Weld County 4-H board members decided to rename the fund as the Jean Hoshiko Memorial Endowment.

Throughout her life, Hoshiko, who died this summer at 79, was behind many volunteer and philanthropic efforts, which included — particularly 4-H. The annual golf tournament that honors Jean’s husband and is organized by the family — the Paul Hoshiko Jr. Memorial 4-H Golf Tournament — benefits youth who participate in the 4-H program.

Jean — who started growing onions in 1957 with her husband, Paul, eventually becoming one of the top producers in the state — was a 1995 Greeley Stampede Grand Marshal, the 2003 Weld County of United Way Humanitarian of the Year, a 2007 honorary member of the National Onion Association and the 2008 Colorado State University Alumni Association’s Distinguished Extension Award, just to name a few honors.

As much as anything, though, she was a regular fixture at the annual Junior Livestock Sale at the Weld County Fair, spending thousands of dollars on animals raised by 4-H youth, and donated to the program in a number of other ways, according to Maxey.

“They were huge supporters of 4-H and youth,” Maxey said of Paul and Jean. “There were no better ambassadors of the program, or the community.”

And now, contributions with Jean’s name on it will continue benefitting the program.

Once raised, the $2 million would be used to hire an additional 4-H employee, hopefully some time in late 2014 or early 2015, Maxey said, and keep that person on staff at the CSU Extension office in Weld County “for many years into the future.”

Among the specific objectives with the money is to increase Weld’s 4-H youth enrollment by 10 percent each of the next five years, and to develop a “farm-to-table” education program geared toward non-farm kids. Weld 4-H leaders also hope to develop an agricultural leadership program in collaboration with local industry partners.

While the organization wants to expand, ongoing government budget cuts will likely impact the availability of funds needed to hire additional CSU Extension personnel, so local officials feel it’s a safer bet to raise the dollars on their own.

The fundraising endeavor is worth it, Weld 4-H leaders say.

At a time when the average age of the U.S. farmer is about 60 years old, Maxey said the need to educate many of today’s disconnected-from-the-farm youth about food production makes 4-H expansion a top priority.

But, in addition to its agriculture focus, the Weld 4-H program has more than 50 categories for learning projects available to youth, including food and nutrition, wildlife, leadership, citizenship, wind power, electronics, model rocketry, clothing construction and apparel and others.

“And we want this expansion to benefit all youth, not just the ag kids,” Maxey said.

Weld County’s 4-H organization already has a large presence in the community compared to other counties, with about 900 local youth involved in 4-H learning projects through the 27 community clubs in the county, led by about 275 adult volunteers, and about 4,000 other youth participate in Weld 4-H’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math activities through school-enrichment and after-school programs.

But it isn’t keeping pace with the county’s general population growth.

Weld’s youth population, ages 5-17, increased by 38 percent from 2000-10, but 4-H participation numbers stayed the same during that time, Maxey has pointed out.

“We see a need for growth ... and as big and as great of a program as we already have here, there’s a huge amount of supporters of 4-H in this area who we think will step up to help,” said Maxey, who said a part of their endowment effort in 2014 will be more public awareness. “We’re confident we can do this.”

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The Fence Post Updated Dec 31, 2013 08:57AM Published Jan 8, 2014 09:50AM Copyright 2014 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.